Figures from across the heating sector have said a broad failure to enforce restrictions on sales of lead solder may require a ban on the material or legislative change to address potential misuse
The entire heating and plumbing industry would benefit from moving fully away from using lead solder in their operations to eliminate potential misuse of the product, the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) has said.
Individuals from across the heating sector have raised fears about a lack of knowledge and awareness in industry over recent changes to EU regulation 2016/1179 concerning the classification and labelling of products. These amendments have outlawed the sale of lead solder to non-professionals.
A number of concerns have been raised with H&V News that the regulation, which came into effect on March 1 last year, is not being enforced by some retailers that may either be unaware of, or are purposely flouting the change in law.
Jerry Whiteley, technical manager with CIPHE, said that while existing regulations have prohibited lead in any system in the water supply, solder containing the metal has been acceptable for central heating or jointing on gas pipework.
However, there is concern that the ongoing availability of lead solder was resulting in the higher risk of potential contamination of water systems in which the material is not permitted.
Mr Whiteley added that it was clearly possible for lead solder to be purchased online in same cases without having to provide evidence that the product is being obtain for use by a qualified professional as required under law.
He said, “The industry would benefit from a move away from the use of lead to eliminate any potential misuse. After all, it is 2019 and there are many alternative options available.”
Mr Whiteley said that there were questions about the effectiveness of recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance demanding any lead solder products sold must be clearly marked as being only for professional use.
Online research conducted by CIPHE on how widely followed and enforced the practice has also added to fears about non-compliance, he added.
Mr Whiteley said the concerns over ensuring lead solder was being sold to qualified individuals highlighted its ongoing calls for fresh legislation to be introduced that would licence individuals seeking to carry out work on heating or plumbing systems to better ensure safety.
Such a move would tackle fears that any individual could establish a plumbing or heating businesses regardless of a lack of qualifications or experience. Making such a licence mandatory would better prevent against bad industry practice, he argued.
Mr Whiteley said, “For example, in 2018 a water company in the South West successfully prosecuted an individual for contravention of the Water Regulations for using lead solder during kitchen fitting.”
“With what we know about the impact of lead on human health, this only serves to highlight the need to protect the public with registered installers who are professional enough to know what they must do and are responsible enough to put it into practice.”
Concerns about misuse of lead have been raised by a number of people across the plumbing industry.
Christopher Flaherty, a qualified plumber and director of specialist installer Vietec Heating, said it was perhaps time for a complete ban on lead solder to encourage a switch to “perfectly adequate” alternative products in the market.
Mr Flaherty pointed to the World Health Organisation’s decision to classify the metal as a reproductive toxicity Cat 1a material as highlighting the potential threat of lead to contaminate tools or individuals without careful handling.
He added that the WHO classification demanded a rethink from across industry to make use of a material such as press fit copper piping.
Further concerns were expressed over current awareness among merchants and the general heating industry about restricting sales of lead solder online to individuals classed as being unqualified.
Online sales challenge
Mr Flaherty said that online sales generated a particular problem, with some online retailers still selling lead solder without offering any up-front checks on how qualified a buyer is to use the product.
He said, “The only way it can be dealt with is for merchants to take the matter seriously, stop the sale of lead solder to non-professionals, ensure lead solder they do have in stock is labelled ‘for professional use only’ and ensure they have the relevant safety data sheet that is supposed to be handed out with the sale of each roll.
The Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC) last year also said it would be backing a complete shift away from solder.
John Thompson, chief executive of the organisation, said at the time that lead solder was outlawed for use on domestic drinking supplies since 1987, yet there was still a need for strong industry action to prevent misuse.
He said, “I want to encourage plumbers and heating installers to stop using lead solder and for manufacturers and merchants to stop selling it, as lead-free alternatives can easily be used in joining copper pipes on all plumbing and heating works.”
“If we as an industry stop using lead solder, or ideally if it can’t be purchased, then this would go a long way in protecting public health from DIY enthusiasts or unqualified plumbers who don’t know the regulations or understand the health risks associated with lead solder”.